Vince And His Covers
In his brief liner note, Merle Haggard, says he feels “highly complimented” and says he likes “the whole album or to be technically correct these days the whole “CD.” Sorry Hag, even though the country music audience continues to be the CD’s most loyal followers, the pendulum has swung back yet again to the LP and now, the download. To fans of Buck, Hag and all the great music that came from the central valley of California in the period from 1950s to 1970, this is a greatest hits compilation. No undiscovered gems or unrecorded originals here. This one’s played just for the hits, or a selection of the many Bakersfield hits, all of these released between 1961 and 1974. What’s most impressive here after the obvious care and respect for the forbearers that went into this project is Vince Gill’s voice. One of the finest vocalists in the history of popular music, Gill, through his singing, both pays tribute to the originals here but also makes these oft heard hits his own. The fact that he can put over Buck’s great ballad, “Together Again,” and it’s stylistic opposite, Hag’s “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” with equal verve is an amazing feat. Of course he’s also a hot guitar picker. And then great talent draws great talent and so for this project he’s surrounded himself and by all accounts a class act all around, here surrounds himself with a band of A list Nashville pickers headed by his cohort Franklin, fiddler Kenny Sears and oh yeah, the great bassist Willie Weeks!
If there’s anything to question here—and this is a very mild criticism at best—it lies with the tempos. While it’s commonly held that classic country music is all about the “stories,” it’s the tempos that are actually the key to making the music of both Haggard and Owens work. The opener, Owens’ “Foolin’ Around” is played at exactly the right snappy tempo whereas the next track “Branded Man” seems a step slow. But again this is nitpicking. Listen to “The Bottle Let Me Down,” tells you most of the tempos here are right on.
Released to coincide with an exhibit on California country music that opened in Fall 2013 at the Country Music Hall of Fame, this cover of this record has been designed to look stained along the edges, just the way a country LP of its vintage often looks. Nice touch! Rather than launch into a tirade over the merits of the pop rock that passes for country music today, let’s just say that because Bakersfield was a project born of a passion for what’s great about country music, and recorded in a home studio where time is an affordable luxuryand everyone sounds like they had a good time making itthis is one of the best country records to come out of Nashville in a very long time.